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Pluribus extends cloud fabric to Nvidia smartNICs

News Analysis
Mar 16, 20223 mins
Cloud ComputingNetworking

Pluribus can extend its switch fabric to Nvidia data processing units as a way to reduce the workload on CPUs across distributed infrastructure.

geometric structure presents a networking pattern in lines of connection

Pluribus Networks has extended its switch-fabric software to server-based data processing units (DPU)—aka smartNICs—that can lighten the workload for server CPUs.

Pluribus has ported its Unified Cloud Fabric (previously Adaptive Cloud Fabric) software to the Nvidia BlueField-2 DPU, which offloads software-defined storage, networking, security, and management workloads from traditional servers.

Other vendors such as AWS, VMware, Pensando, Aruba, and Intel are developing smartNIC architectures, and Pluribus is likely to support at least some of them in the future.

Underlying Unified Cloud Fabric is Netvisor One, Pluribus’s virtualized Linux-based network operating system (NOS) that provides Layer 2 and Layer 3 networking and distributed-fabric intelligence. The NOS virtualizes switch hardware and operates without a controller. The software can be deployed across a single data center or targeted to specific racks, pods, server farms or hyperconverged infrastructures, the company said.

“We now we have a common OS across open switches and DPUs, which allows us to unify networks that include both servers with DPUs and other servers and devices without DPUs,” said Jay Gill, senior director of products & solutions with Pluribus.   

The idea is to offer customers a migration path to get to their target architecture based on distributed networking and security in DPUs while accommodating servers and devices that will never have a DPU, including special-purpose appliances and IoT devices, Gill said.  

“This architecture also allows the fabric to extend to deep edge locations that may have only a single server with a DPU, eliminating the cost, space and power requirements of a separate network device,” Gill said.

The idea of deploying smartNICs in the enterprise is in the embryonic stage, but the idea of offloading server CPU duties onto a separate device to free up server cycles promises to  reduce networking costs, improve performance and increase security.

The Pluribus software also implements distributed security—a mandate in order to get to zero trust in the data center, Gill said.

Pluribus distributes security, including segmentation and stateful firewalls to the server level. It also includes application visibility and analytics for all traffic flows which improves trouble detection and resolution while eliminating the extra cost and incomplete coverage of separate monitoring networks, Gill said.

While implementing distributed security protection is a primary use case for Pluribus, one future application on the vendor’s roadmap is Kubernetes network offload, Gill said.

“Kubernetes has its own networking approach, and if you want to have a container networking instance (CNI) you can run that in software on your server as part of the Kubernetes networking or you can have that running in the GPU and offload even one more bit of networking from the server to the GPU,” Gill said.  “So that’s something we’ll do to keep the networking just as simple as possible on the CPU itself.”

“What Pluribus it trying to do will interest some enterprises and Tier 2 cloud service providers—especially the ability to improve security through microsegmentation and the use of distributed firewalling right into the server,” said Brad Casemore , IDC research vice president, data center networks. “But it’s still very early, and it’s going to take time for smartNIC/DPUs to become more of a mainstream development.”

Registration is open now for early field trials of Unified Cloud Fabric and Nvidia that start May 1.